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JeM branches out, sets up base in south Punjab

world Updated: Feb 10, 2013 23:41 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times
Imtiaz Ahmad

While the Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD) remains in the limelight in Pakistan, the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) which was founded in 2000, has taken another path. Instead of focusing on attacks in Kashmir, the JeM has branched out and set up a base in south Punjab from where it now operates and now focuses on both Kashmir as well as sectarian strife within Pakistan. Some say that this had led it to fall foul of the country's military establishment while others insist that this is not the case and the ISI continues to patronize such outfits through one way or another.

The JeM has also joined hands with an extremist Sunni militant group, the Sipahe-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which is responsible for the deaths of several hundred members of Pakistan's Shia community. After JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar returned from Indian captivity, he was given a hero's welcome in major cities of Pakistan. While his movement was facilitated by the ISI, Azhar used the support base of the SSP to launch himself.

Renamed the Khuddam-e-Islam, the JeM has based itself near Bahawalpur where it runs a huge seminary spread over hundreds of acres. This seminary jointly owned with the SSP, which is also a banned organization that now goes by the name of Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ). In fact, insiders say that the JeM helped train SSP men in Kashmir under the supervision of the ISI.

What is worrisome is how the nexus now extends as far as the PML-N, the mainsteam opposition party headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif. The SSP is seen as a coalition ally of the PML-N and by default the JeM now has links with Mian Nawaz Sharif through Rana Sanaullah, the minister of law in the Punjab cabinet who oversees the links with the SSP and other organizations. As the polls approach, the PML-N has promised concessions to the SSP and by default to the JeM, which include immunity from police.